Originally published in Medium.com on October 1st 2019
In a recent meeting of the Business Roundtable, “the CEOs of nearly 200 companies just said shareholder value is no longer their main objective”. Given the dominant paradigms of endless growth and shareholder profit at any cost, the articulation of this sentiment from prime business circles is a shift indeed. Of course, it needs to be seen whether this is only talk or is it backed by commitment and intention. Nonetheless, it is proof that we have reached a point of stagnancy and exhaustion with our old models and structures. There is no further benefit to be gleaned from them. In fact, clinging to the old ways is now proving to be chaotic, cataclysmic, and even apocalyptic.
In a deeply complex, inter-related and interconnected world, every single thought we have, each decision and action we take has far-reaching impact — often beyond our ability to comprehend. And this is multiplied manifold when the actor is a large organization. Hence, it is time to change the underlying narratives, metaphors, and consciousness that are driving today’s organizations. This requires a complete reinvention and re-designing of the fundamental organizational principles, ethos, and purpose — the veryraison d’etre of organizationsmust shift. New strategies, technologies, and processes superficially affixed on top of the existing paradigms and worldviews will not work. The old debilitating and destructive patterns will creep in through the backdoor, under different names and guises.The shift from maximizing shareholder profit to the well-being of all calls for an awareness-based, conscious transformation toward building life-affirming, regenerative, and thrivable organizations.
In this post, I have attempted to explore some of the key dimensions and facets of theleadership questthat this shift is asking of us…
We are at a transformational moment in human history — on the cusp of a profound transition from an Industrial Growth Society (IGS) to a Life-Sustaining Society (LSS).The breakdowns on multiple fronts are heralding the destabilization of the old order. The system is literally self-terminating. And as Arundhuti Roy says so eloquently,“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”Joanna Macy calls itThe Great Turning.What we are collectively experiencing as decay and disintegration, disequilibrium and dissolution are the death throes of an old-world order.
In the face of this destabilization, our organizations and leadership must become amplifiers and compasses for another world — one which is built onthe principles of thrivabilityfor all and not only for a handful of the rich and powerful. Michelle Holliday describes “thrivability” thus:
In practice, thrivability is about identifying and committing to your organization’s own best means of enhancing life’s ability to thrive. And it’s about aligning with life’s core operating patterns across every aspect of the organization.
Is the idea far-fetched? I don’t think so. Is it necessary? I can think of no other purpose for the existence of an organization in today’s context. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. It will require each and every one of us to operate from and aspire to our highest selves, to reclaim our essential humanity lost to years of conditioning, and to push back against the forces doing their utmost to drag us backward. AsUmair Haquesays,
“Organizational leadership today means building an organization that is a model for the world it hopes to create. That models — demonstrates, displays, shows, exemplifies, for all to see — the better world that it hopes to spark.”
However, our current organizational paradigms and business models reward ruthlessness, aggression, cunning, competitiveness, authoritarianism, and an overarching “what’s in it for me” attitude. Unfortunately, these very traits strip us of our innate humanity and purpose, which are imbued with generosity, gratitude, compassion, courage, joy, love, and meaning. These qualities find little place in our organizations today — or lurk and hide in corners, afraid to reveal themselves for fear of ridicule, contempt, and condescension. This has created workplaces that are devoid of purpose, possibilities, and promise. People are literally ‘Dying for a Paycheck.’
Given this backdrop, I have used the phrase “leadership quest” deliberately. I believe leaders, and each one of us, have to “undertake a journey toward actualizing our highest future potential” in the service of a thrivable and regenerative world. And this quest will see an unfolding of pioneering and regenerative leadership principles and ethos necessary to build a life-sustaining society…. It is a quest, a journey of human evolution, a collective awakening of consciousness that is already taking place across the world in many shapes and forms.
We are at a unique stage in human history where technology and human consciousness are evolving and growing rapidly and exponentially. Their intersection — if put in the service of the well-being of all sentient beings and our Planet — can have an astounding impact. And our organizations can become platforms and holding spaces forThe More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. Wouldn’t that be a worthy quest for all?
Nurture imaginal cells. Underneath the chaos, disintegration, and disarray apparent across the board lies the DNA of a new order waiting to be manifested. And what is to be birthed bears no resemblance to the old. Just as the caterpillar bears no resemblance to the butterfly, and yet holds the key — the imaginal cells — for its own metamorphosis. In the same way, the key — the imaginal cells — of regenerative, anti-fragile, and thrivable organizations are hidden within this collapse and chaos.
They are to be found in the shapeshifters, the wayfinders, the edge-dwellers, and the norm-breakers within our organizations. These individuals bear the seeds of a different narrative and the visions for an emergent future which is life-sustaining. They carry the possibilities of breakthroughs amidst the breakdowns.Regenerative leadership calls for an ability to identify and nurture these imaginal cells within the organization, to support their endeavors, and protect them from the onslaught of the status quo.
These individuals will often come across as fearless and bold contrarians, and the natural tendency will be to resist and fight them, to try and eject them from the system, to sideline them. The dominant status quo can be a formidable force. And this is precisely where leadership comes in — it will be the job of leaders to nurture and protect these people, to ensure they can grow, connect, and collaborate till a tipping point is reached. Once these wayfinders form clusters, and clusters of clusters, we can be sure that we are on the brink of a transformation.
Goto the edge of the system. The explorations and experimentations typically take place at the edges of a system. The edge is an interesting place; its very fluidity fills it with possibilities. It is also where two or more ecosystems come in contact with each other and give rise to interesting phenomena, like the mangroves (where the sea meets the land). Similarly, the edges of an organization are where the seeds of its next stage of evolution can be found should the leaders care to look.
A leader’s task is to be a bridge between the edge and the center — not to diminish the burgeoning potentials of the edge but to infuse the center with its spirit, vision, and energy. As more and more edge practices find their way into the center, the old patterns embedded at the core start to loosen and dissolve. With the releasing of the old ways, new practices, mindsets, and beliefs take root, transforming the organization. As Bucky Fuller said,
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Recognize the power of intention. This is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of regenerative leadership. A leader’s intention is the North Star that guides an organization towards becoming a regenerative business. It is about holding onto the vision of a life-affirming organization, and then putting it in practice. It involves not only recognizing that an organization is a living system but also following through with life-sustaining ways of being and doing. (I have been writing about these shifts in my earlier posts —Leading in Uncertain TimesandLeading in Uncertain Times: The Journey Within.)
No amount of re-engineering, reorganization, and re-training will work if the fundamental intentions and consciousness are still rooted in the past. In short, the foundations of a thrivable organization cannot be built on profit maximization. The inner conditions of leadership have a profound impact on the outer reality. Only when leaders stay steadfastly true to the purpose of the organization, uphold its capacity to be a regenerative and healing force, and take actions and decisions rooted in their intention, can they propel an organization to move to its next stage of evolution.
Create conditions for emergence. Emergence is a fundamental property of living systems as they adapt to their constantly changing environment. When we move from the metaphor of “organizations as machines” to that of “organizations as living systems,” it is easy to understand why creating conditions for emergence is important. Emergence in organizations takes place at the intersections of relationships — their divergence and their synergy. Synergy arises from maintaining and facilitating a fine balance between agency and symbiosis among diverse and different individuals for something fundamentally novel to arise. This means that diversity and inclusion are pre-conditions for emergence, and it behooves leaders to design for this.
One of the foundational qualities of regenerative leadership is then to create and safeguard an inclusive culture based on embracing widely divergent worldviews, perspectives, and even paradoxes.Holding space for emergence is an active process of staying in the liminal space, listening deeply, engaging all oursensemaking capacities, and staying open to the “magic in the middle.”Leaders who can lean into the emerging future are the ones who create magic in the face of chaos.
Go beyond collaboration. Collaboration has become an increasingly important aspect of 21st century’s boundaryless, distributed, and fluid workplaces. Individuals and teams collaborate across borders to pool expertise, accomplish a set of pre-defined goals, and share learnings. I am proposing that in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, we need to movebeyond collaboration. Collaboration works when the path is known, an outcome is defined, and solutions are clear.
But when there is no path and outcomes cannot be predicted, then it is time to go beyond collaboration and embrace co-creation — a process of manifesting what is wanting to come through; giving shape to the emergent future by staying present, curious, compassionate, and courageous.Leaders need to become enablers and connectors — balancing divergence with synergy, facilitating the letting go off familiar outcomes, and holding the space for collective co-creation toward an ‘evolutionary purpose.’Thisact of collective sensemakingrequires deep trust in oneself, in the process, in human potential, and practice inPresencing. It should be a central part of today’s leadership quest to cultivate one’s capacities to create the conditions for co-creation.
Make life-affirming decisions. Organizations today can hardly be called life-affirming. They abide by and are driven by systems and policies that have turned them into profit-making machines at profound cost to their people and Planet. We are in the midst of a crisis that is beckoning us toward a different future possibility — one characterized by harmony, balance, resilience, and generativity. The purpose of the leadership quest today will be to make this potential a possibility. This will require leaders who are self-aware, mindful, and operate from a conscious understanding of the inter-connectedness and interbeing of everything. Without this felt sense of inter-relatedness, they will not be able to make life-affirming decisions.
The process is neither easy nor linear. It is an inner quest as well as an outer one. Leaders will be faced with infinite paradoxes and ambiguities, forces which will compel them to play by the old rules, and circumstances which will cloud their vision. However, by holding on to the overarching intention to be life-affirming, they can still act as stewards and facilitators of life. AsDaniel Christian Wahlsays in the context of regenerative leadership:
“Re-patterning the future regeneratively requires the transformation of the whole playing field, theredesign of our economic systemand ourmonetary system, and — ultimately — the collective redesign of the human presence and impact on Earth.”
In conclusion, I believe that we are at a point in our evolutionary history where we are collectively being called to listen to our deepest truths as human beings, as stewards of life, as imaginal cells of the future, and to direct our intentions, thoughts, and actions toward co-creating a life-sustaining society.
“Thrivability emerges from each of us holding the persistent intention to be generative: that is to say, to create more value than we consume.” ~Jean M. Russell
Connecting to Nature has an immediate soothing effect; it creates positive emotions and triggers a feeling of gratitude. As I observe and pay attention to my surrounding, I am fully present. So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week:
I pay special attention to Nature admiring the beauty of its autumnal colors.
“I never thought about that,” you’re probably saying. So let me get this straight: You’re thinking all the time, and yet you never consider how much time you spend thinking. That sounds like an addiction to me. I know, because I’m addicted to thinking, too.
Overthinking is a common problem, butwhen it gets out of handit can lead to sleep disruption, “analysis paralysis,” and even threaten mental health. It’s also a difficult one to diagnose, let alone cure.
When I eat too much, I can say, “I’m overeating. I need to eat less.” When I work too much, I can say, “I’m getting burned out. I need to stop working.” When I drink too much, I can say, “I need to stop. I need a bottle of water.” But when I think too much, it’s not enough to just say “I’m overthinking.” I need a different approach to unclog my brain.
The problem is that most people don’t consider overthinking a problem. When someone criticizes overthinking, we often assume that the problem is dwelling upon or spiraling through negative thoughts. We tend to assume, by the same token, that positive thoughts are good. But it’s a mistake to assume all positive thoughts are good.
What most self-help advice says is to scrap the negative thoughts and double down on the positive thoughts. On the surface, this sounds like good advice. But the truth is that when you overuse your brain, for positive or negative, it can get clogged just like a drain. The result? Foggy thinking. Which leads to bad decision- making.
You are not your thoughts
Thinking isn’t considered a habit to curb because it’s so closely connected to our core identities. No one said it better than Marcus Aurelius inMeditations:“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
What he’s saying is that our lives are shaped by the quality of our thoughts. I believe in that. However, most of us assume that we are our thoughts.
We say: “Well, I can’t help but think these things. That’s just me.” No, that’s not you. You can decide what thoughts to ignore. I like how Eckhart Tolle puts it inThe Power Of Now: “The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity — the thinker.”
The only way to stop identifying yourself with your thoughts is to stop following through on all your thoughts. Instead, decide to live in the present moment — where you don’t have time to think, only to experience.
How do you live in the present moment?
Thinking is a tool. Instead of using that tool constantly during the 16 or 17 hours that you’re awake, pull it out to use it when you need it.
But how do you do that? Here’s the four-step process I’ve used to stop overthinking:
Raise your awareness throughout the day.Realize that too much thinking leads you away from your goals, not toward them.
Start observing your thoughts.Every time you begin a thought, don’t follow through on it. Instead, simply notice that you started thinking. When you do that, your brain won’t get carried away.
Limit your thinking to dedicated times.For example, when journaling orsetting your daily priorities, sit down and really think. Give yourself a specific amount of time — say, 15 minutes. During those moments, it’s perfectly fine to follow through on your thoughts. What we’re trying to stop is the constant thinking.
Enjoy your life. Let go of all your thoughts about yesterday and tomorrow. No matter how much you want to achieve in the future, and no matter how much you’ve suffered in the past, appreciate that you are alive now.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to “enjoy doing the dishes.” That’s not my style. When I’m doing something I dislike, I’ve learned to just do it without judgment.
But when I’m doing something I actually like, no matter how big or small, I genuinely enjoy it. When I’m listening to music, watching a movie, or spending time with my family, friends, or my girlfriend, that’s when I’m in the moment.
I don’t think about my goals, failures, or things I have to do tomorrow. I’m just here. Right now. Just like the moment that you’re taking to read these words. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Realize that on a deeper level, and you’ll never even dare to leave the present.
A significant part of feeling value beyond our compensation is working on something bigger than ourselves.
Everyone has a vision or a mission statement. But we lack a standard definition of those terms, using the same words in different ways. This leads to more confusion than cohesion, both internally with our people and externally with our stakeholders.
So let’s throw out the words and start over. Words must be simple to be understandable. They must be understandable to be repeatable. And if they are repeatable then they will spread.
In our founder Simon Sinek’s upcoming book,The Infinite Game, we put forward a new term: advancing aJust Cause.
A Just Cause is linked to our WHY, our noble purpose for being. Our WHY comes from our past—it is our origin story and it is who we are. Our Just Cause is our WHY projected into the future. It describes a future state in which our WHY has been realized. It is a forward looking statement that is so inspiring and compelling that people are willing to sacrifice to see that vision advanced.
There are five criteria to have a Just Cause. It must be 1) for something, 2) inclusive, 3) service oriented, 4) resilient, and 5) idealistic.
It serves as a positive and specific vision of the future.
While being against something may be effective in rallying people, it doesn’t inspire and it won’t last. A Just Cause is what you standforrather than what you stand against.
It is open to all those who wish to contribute.
A Just Cause attracts people from diverse skillsets. Too often visions and missions are tied to a specific product or activity. If your stated purpose is about the technology or sales, for example, then it is mostly designed for engineers or salespeople. Everyone else who is not an engineer or salesperson may feel like, or even be treated as, second-class citizens. A Just Cause inspiresallto make their worthwhile contributions and feel valued for it.
The primary benefit of the cause has to go to those other than you, the contributors.
For example, if you go to your boss for career advice, the expectation is that the advice you receive will benefit your career. If your boss gives you advice that benefits their self interests, they are not service oriented. This extends to organizations, leaders and investors. The products and services an organization develops must be designed to primarily benefit their customers, not the company itself. If you are a leader, your leadership has to benefit the people in your span of care. And, if you are an investor, the investments you make have to benefit the company with which you are investing. Of course, you can expect a return on your investment, but it must be of secondary benefit. The primary benefactor of the investment is the recipient, not the investor.
Be able to endure political, technological and cultural change.
Again, if you define your Just Cause based upon the prevalence of particular technology or a specific product and there is a market change, your Just Cause will not last.
Big, bold and ultimately unachievable.
It’s not about becoming the biggest, the best or number one. It’s not about reaching some arbitrary revenue target, even if it is huge. It is about pursuing something that is infinite—for all intents and purposes you will not ever attain it. It is, indeed, a vision and not a goal. And as you make progress toward that better future state you imagine, you will be able to feel and measure your momentum. A Just Cause is an ideal. It is something so noble that we would be willing to devote our lives and careers toward advancing it. And, when our careers are over, the Just Cause can live on and serve to inspire further progress; that can be our legacy.
Most people and organizations do not write good vision or mission statements, not because they are bad people, but because we do not yet have a standard definition or guidelines. We are hoping that this framework helps you cast a Just Cause that inspires people for the long run. And, remember, it is the leader’s job to ensure people feel a part of something—not that they simply have a part in something. Inspire your people, and they will inspire you.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 96% scored “my purpose in life is clear and meaningful” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question: What is my purpose? Describe with clarity and meaning
Condition: Step back, up and take a wide view of what matters
Discipline: Connect and leverage all you do to your purpose
Caution: Keep a sense of humour, laugh and play
If you cannot define and describe what matters to you, you leave yourself exposed to distraction, seduction and procrastination. You will become a victim to the purpose of others. Your success will be compromised.
Only 6% of the least resilient people score purpose with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. Poorly defined purpose leads to suffering.
What you can do right now?
Your life is rich and diverse. There is no right or perfect purpose. Each of us must seek to define what really matters. Consider the times that you felt your life or activity was optimally on track. Joy and engagement are the signals to seek. Imagine your life with more of these times. What purpose would you be serving?
It is essential to step back and remove the daily busyness and distraction. Find a perspective where you can take a wide view of life. What work needs to be done. Where are your particular skills best deployed? How do you want to feel? Who do you want to contribute to? What would you most love to achieve? Right down what this purpose would look like in action.
Be courageous and look for ways to reduce those parts of your day that are not on purpose. Where could you increase the amount of time that would be spent on your purpose. Do what is not on purpose in the aim of getting back on purpose. Share your written purpose with others. Seek helpful feedback. Ask for help.
Being on purpose all the time can be boring, overwhelming or intimidating to others. Don’t be too serious. Welcome failure and learn. Laugh when you go off track. Forgive yourself and make time to play. Seek nature and creative expression.
Building purpose takes time, experimentation and setbacks. The more accurately you can describe your purpose the more you will access your motivation and intuitive decision-making.
We all tend to be overwhelmed with information. It is said that we get in a day as much information as our ancestors used to get in their entire life. “Infobesity” lurks! When I consume and produce information with more awareness, I cultivate presence and focus. So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week:
I watch my info-diet and pay special attention to the information I consume, produce and share.